Friday, November 14, 2014

Sand castles, surfing and computation: what drives these two Jacobs School researchers

Our colleagues at This Week @ UC San Diego asked Geno Pawlak, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Bill Griswold, a professor of computer science, about curiosity, passion and transformation related to their field of research. The answers featured surfing, sand castles and achieving humanity's full potential. The two researchers were speaking at the Founders Symposium Nov. 13 here on campus. Read their answers below.

Eugene Pawlak, Ph.D., ’97, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Turbulence: Chicken Soup for the Coral-Reef Soul
What initially sparked your curiosity about this area of study?
I grew up along the coast in Panama and have lived near the ocean and have surfed most of my life - so I’ve experienced first-hand the dramatic changes in the ocean that can occur due to storms, swell, pollution, etc. The Pacific coast of Panama sees tidal changes of 20 feet so you can see remarkable changes over six hours. I was also a sand-castle builder as a kid (and still am!) and so I was fascinated by the changes that came about due to waves and tides at an early age.
Day-to-day, what fuels your passion for you research?
On a very basic level, I think I’m passionate about understanding how things work. At a broader level, I’ve become more interested in applying this understanding to environmental problems, for example, making use of our knowledge of physical systems in understanding responses of biological and chemical systems in reef environments.
What potential impact—or transformation—do you see coming from this research?
My research is fundamentally about understanding physical dynamics of environmental systems, focused on connections between the coast and the open ocean. From an engineering perspective, this research has implications for predicting storm surge, tsunami inundation, water quality and coastal erosion. I believe the potential for transformative impacts arises from working across disciplines.

William Griswold, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Pervasive Air Quality Monitoring via the Crowd
What initially sparked your curiosity about this area of study?
I learned that there were just a handful of air quality monitoring stations in San Diego, and that we really knew so little about how air quality in the region was affecting the average person. I realized that recent developments in mobile computing technology and sensing devices would enable much more accurate and detailed sensing.
Day-to-day, what fuels your passion for your research?
Three things:
  1. I believe that with each advance in computing, we get a little closer to achieving our full potential. Computing technology holds the promise to enhance our humanity and our potential as human beings: our creativity, our intelligence, our reach and how we relate to each other.
  2. Students and their hunger for learning. I want to make their dreams come true.
  3. The opportunity to make this a better world for everyone.
What potential impact—or transformation—do you see coming from this research?
CitiSense (which leverages smartphones and the advent of cheap, compact sensors to enable real-time monitoring of air quality) is one example of how pervasive data collection and analysis can reveal the state of our world and how it affects our well-being on a daily basis. It's hard to perceive while we're in the middle of it, but a revolution is afoot.

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